By Elesha George
Bad roads, unprofitable calls and unauthorised competition are making it hard for taxi operators in St. John’s to earn enough money to take them through the second half of the cruise calendar year.
With just over three months left, the St. John ‘s Taxi Association is writing off the 2019/2020 peak season, telling OBSERVER media that it has not been as prosperous as they would have anticipated.
The peak season runs from late October to April each year, and is expected to be the most active months on the cruise sector’s calendar.
However, Leroy John-Baptiste, the General Secretary of the St. John’s Taxi Association said that there are too many days without scheduled calls.
“One of the sayings you’re hearing around the fraternity, or around the Association, is that this is one of the worst seasons we have had in a while …there are too many down days,” he said.
John-Baptiste said that in the heart of the season, ships are not coming daily, explaining that taxi men are “accustomed to working two, three weeks in a row without a day off, and now every week, you have at least one day off, two days off sometimes, and then the type of ships that are coming, they’re just not producing the results that we anticipated.”
Operators reportedly make anywhere from US$250-$275 on a good day, but the General Secretary said “There are days you go to that cruise pier, people might not believe, but you leave with absolutely nothing.”
“I know that four ships are going to come today, but I know as well that it’s not going to be good because of the type of ships,” remarked Keithroy “Number One” Lake, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the St. John’s Taxi Operators.
The veteran taxi worker said that at times when they should run out of taxi drivers, with 4 ships in town, upwards of 50 operators “go home with nothing in their pockets.”
“The season is definitely not good…last season was better. Even if you have good ships coming and we are the last call, people money finish” …” if you are the last call, the boat come, but there is no work,” he stressed. “We’re surviving, yes, but surviving how?” Lake questioned.
John-Baptiste quoted an analysis of the 2018/2019 season which showed that some drivers only received two cruise line jobs in six months, amounting to a mere $1400.
“When you look at the type of revenue that’s coming, you’re not generating any real significant revenue, and when you look at our road conditions, and what our vehicles have to endure, it’s just not adding up in terms of being a very viable and sustainable call for us.”
According to the General Secretary, the Association has kept a waiting list of more than 200 applications for people who want to become taxi drivers. The Association already as 180 members and John-Baptiste said “you can’t take in persons if there is no work to give them,” highlighting yet another problem.
“If you go down to Heritage Quay area, the first obstacle you have is the parking” … “If you come inside of Heritage Quay there is a bombardment of unauthorised drivers inside of the Quay and that is significantly impacting our operation.”
John-Baptiste believes that the industry has changed, and that the product offered by Antigua and Barbuda needs a “serious facelift” and “injections of new attractions and new tours,” reasoning that “you’re not only competing with other countries, you’re even competing with the cruise ship; persons just prefer sometimes to stay on the cruise ship and enjoy the amenities and facilities there.” “Even what we make in the season, when you spread that out, it is a very difficult balancing act. In the off season it is very, very challenging for us as taxi drivers, service ambassadors, it does call for some real unique management skills to be able to navigate these turbulent waters,” he concluded.